When Diana Lopez got home from work Oct. 1, she found that her 2-year-old daughter Elena’s temperature had spiked.
Elena had suffered febrile seizures twice before, and Lopez was afraid another was coming.
So an alarmed Lopez and her mother, Martha Ramirez, loaded Elena into her car seat and headed to Cook Children’s Urgent Care clinic from their home in north Fort Worth.
They made it as far as Henderson Street, in downtown Fort Worth, when Ramirez who was in the backseat with her granddaughter, saw Elena suddenly start to shake. Her brown eyes rolled back into her head.
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Ramirez screamed and Lopez stopped the truck.
“That’s when I turned, and we pulled her out of the car seat and moved her into the front seat,” Lopez said.
Lopez called 911.
“I told them my daughter was having a seizure and that we were in the middle of the road and that I needed help,” Lopez said. “And she couldn’t understand me. I guess I was screaming so much because she kept telling me I needed to calm down in order for me to tell her where I was.”
Lopez’s panic only worsened when Elena’s seizure lasted longer than the ones before — about five minutes. And this time, when it ended, Elena didn’t move or respond.
“I’ve never had her turn colors on me. This time she turned purple,” Lopez said. “Usually after the seizure ends, she starts to cry and she’s kind of lethargic but she’s conscious, and this time she wasn’t. I knew that there was something different. Her seizure had ended and she wasn’t crying or coming back to me or doing anything.”
Tarrant County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Gallardo had been riding his bike south on Henderson Street that evening, headed to the nearby Walgreens to check on the business due to recent thefts. He noticed the Chevy pickup parked awkwardly in the 1000 block of West 10th Street.
Both driver-side doors were open, and he could see two pairs of legs standing just outside the driver’s door, facing into the truck.
An accident, he wondered. Maybe a domestic disturbance?
When the light changed, he and another deputy, H. Greenlee, crossed a busy Henderson Street to investigate. As he approached, Ramirez screamed in Spanish, “Ayudarla! Ayudarla!” which means “Help her!”
Gallardo saw another woman bent over the front seat.
“I thought she was injured so I asked her if she was all right,” Gallardo said. “She gets up and says, ‘Help me. She stopped breathing!’ ”
That’s when he spotted Elena’s lifeless body in the driver’s seat, dressed in a diaper and a pink shirt.
“She’s not coming back to me!” Lopez told Gallardo.
Gallardo identified himself to the 911 dispatcher still on the line and began chest compressions on Elena.
“Come on, baby. Come on, baby. Wake up, Mama. Wake up,” Gallardo encouraged Elena as he pushed on her chest repeatedly.
As Gallardo worked, Lopez said, Greenlee comforted her and gave her updates.
“He was very sweet too, just very calming and he kept talking to (Gallardo) and going back and forth in letting us know everything that was going on,” Lopez said.
Gallardo soon heard sirens and looked up to see a fire engine coming down the street.
“I did another maybe 10 more chest compressions when she opened her eyes and stared at me,” Gallardo said. “They opened really wide and then they went back down.”
Gallardo turned to Lopez with the good news: “She’s fine. She opened her eyes.”
“I felt so relieved and so thankful that he was there,” Lopez said.
As firefighters approached, Gallardo handed Elena to them. He said she never cried.
“She was just kind of freaked out. She had a look of, What happened?” he said.
After Elena was loaded in the ambulance, Gallardo and Greenlee pedaled away.
For Gallardo, the call was special but not his first encounter with a near life-and-death experience.
While at a conference in South Padre Island in 2014, he saved a young girl from drowning in the ocean. Another time, when still new to the sheriff’s department, he found an inmate hanging in a holding cell at the courthouse and brought the man back with CPR.
He said he doesn’t feel like a hero but credits Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who started the bike unit so that deputies could partner with Fort Worth’s officers in keeping downtown safe.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been out here. I would have been at the courthouse or something,” Gallardo said.
Lopez said doctors at Cooks determined that an infection coupled with a recent flu shot had apparently led to Elena’s fever and seizure. She was put on antibiotics.
Tuesday, Elena smiled and gave hugs and kisses freely when visited by a Star-Telegram reporter.
Lopez says she is grateful to Gallardo.
“I don’t think she would have come back to me if he wasn’t there,” she said. “He just showed up at the perfect time in the perfect moment and knew exactly what to do.”